A rebel group in eastern DRC, which the government accuses of being backed by Rwanda, has overrun a trading center on the border with Uganda, local sources said on Monday.
M23 militants captured the town of Bunagana in North Kivu province as some government forces retreated into Uganda, they said.
But officials in Uganda said the fighting was on the DRC’s side and the town was safe.
“We have information that eastern DRC in Bunangana is under the control of M23 rebels, but the security situation on the Ugandan side is very normal,” said Fred Enanga, Uganda Police Spokesman.
Bunagana “is under enemy control,” said a Congolese officer reached by phone from AFP in Goma.
“The army has just given in and is on its way to Uganda,” said Damien Sebusanane, Head of an Or t resident civil society that was on the Ugandan side of the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“An army truck just drove away past four jeeps and other vehicles full of soldiers,” he said and estimated the number of DRC troops retreating into Uganda at around 100.
A humanitarian source on the ground said heavy clashes had broken out again on Sunday morning and the only way out for the embattled troops of the DRC was to cross Uganda.
The M23, a mainly Congolese Tutsi militia, is one of more than 120 armed groups active in eastern DRC.
They briefly captured Goma in 2012, but a joint offensive by UN troops and the Congolese army crushed the rebellion.
UN refugee concerns
The group took up fighting in November back to last year, n after accusing the Congolese government of failing to respect a 2009 agreement that required the army to integrate its fighters.
Thousands of people have poured into Uganda and the DRC’s Rutshuru territory since a second bout of violence fled flared up in March.
The DRC government reiterated on Sunday that Rwanda supported the rebels, a claim Rwanda has repeatedly denied.
In their attack on Bunagana, the M23 was “supported by soldiers and artillery from the Rwandan army,” the DRC army said in a statement, adding that two soldiers and several enemy combatants were killed.
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General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the province’s military government, said Rwanda was trying to oblige Goma, the capital of North Kivu “suffocate” and to put pressure on the government in Kinshasa.
The UN refugee agency said on Monday that another 368 people had fled across the border into Uganda from Bunagana, and the humanitarian situation was becoming “more and more worrying”.
Relations between the DRC and Rwanda have been strained since the mass arrival of Rwandan Hutus in eastern DRC, accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
– Additional coverage by The EastAfrican.